A kind of moral/political blackmail is commonly practiced on those who feel that the Israelis, rather than holding the occupied territories, denying their Palestinian residents political rights and daring the United States to do something about it, ought to try a more moderate approach.
It's easy for you to say, one is told, but you don't have to bear the consequences of misjudgment; with the Palestinians terrorizing and the Iraqis raving, this is a time for people who know of the ways of the Middle East and the uses of power. It is further suggested that the acknowledged Israeli hard-liners, the Shamirs and Sharons, can accomplish what the putative soft-liners, the Pereses and Rabins, do not have the political space to attempt.
This line plays. Abul Abbas, the Palestinian terrorist who ordered the speedboat attack, and Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who threatened to scorch Israel with chemical weapons, may have been filling precisely the roles that Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon had cast them for, but they are also real people posing a real menace. In Israel the opposition to Shamir was unable to counter them. In this country, voices that were speaking for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue are under pressure to break off the American-PLO discussions meant to usher it in.
How does one demonstrate nonetheless that the hard line is desperately misguided, promising mostly tension, suffering and high cost, if not a new outbreak of war, to Israelis and Arabs alike? That Israelis who hold it show an anachronistic fear that the powerful modern Israeli state should have outgrown, and a feeble political imagination as well? That Americans sympathetic to this line, meaning to draw American support to the Israelis, are actually putting them at greater risk?
The moderate line is endorsed by about half the people in Israel, by more and with more conviction on calm days, by fewer and with less conviction on turbulent ones. Israel's floating party of hope includes people whose military and government experience, knowledge and sobriety put them far beyond glib rebuke. One such among many is Gen. Abraham Tamir, formerly chief of the military's strategic planning, national security adviser and much else. He is mentioned here to draw attention to what this tough old bird -- not a fringe figure but a dove in the mainstream left -- writes in the June 25 National Review:
''Since 1988 ... the necessary conditions for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace have been created. It is no longer possible to argue that the superpower contest in the Middle East is a major obstacle, or that no Arab party favors a comprehensive peace, or that the establishment of a Palestinian state will inflict a disaster upon Israel, or that a substitute for the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people can be found, or that the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip can simply be suppressed, or that it is possible to maintain the separate peace with Egypt indefinitely, or, finally, that the involvement of the U.S.S.R. in the peace process might result in the extension of its strategic footholds in the area.
''Despite their military strength and widespread international support, the Arab states have not yet succeeded in enforcing terms upon Israel either by military or by political means. Nor, indeed, will they succeed in the future. Nor will the PLO and its international terrorist allies. It should be equally clear, however, that Israel cannot enforce peace terms upon the Arab states or the Palestinian people either ...
''There is today an Arab party, which includes Syria and Iraq, seeking peace, and the superpowers are willing to assist the combatants to achieve it. The major problems that have to be resolved in order to do so are: the drawing of borders between Israel and its neighbors, and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
''The time has come for the U.S., assisted by the U.S.S.R. and Egypt, to initiate a comprehensive peace. ... An American initiative should seek to establish an international conference. ..."
Tamir's saying so does not make him right, of course, although I happen to think he is. Tactics and timing are always open to argument, but he offers a strategic conception that takes into account the crucial international and regional developments that others ignore. The American initiative he seeks is rejected by his own government. Nonetheless, those who wonder how a strong American peace policy would be received in Israel should know there is a powerful and authentic Israeli company waiting for it.